Race, Gender & Horror: Reading Psychoanalysis in American Film & Fiction

Course Description

Have you ever wondered: Why is the (weak) woman almost always saved by a man? Why does the (black) friend or sidekick always die first? Why must the woman who engages in sexual activity meet a violent end? Why are we presumed to consider disability and disfigurement “scary”? From the infamous shower stabbing in Hitchcock’s Psycho to the teacup hypnotism pitching Chris into the sunken place in Get Out, we will analyze portrayals of violence, shock, subversion and power in horror film. This course invites critical reading as an ethical disposition where reading is meant to indicate more than encountering words on a page; reading is emphasized as a practice of critical reflexivity, prompting students to identify, interpret and account for the investments and ideologies they bring to bear on the material we explore in class.

The interpretive work we perform in class will provide you with a solid foundation in psychoanalytic concepts, gender and cultural theory, literary analysis and film studies. You will become acquainted with these fields by exploring seminal works by Sigmund Freud, new currents of thought in black studies, feminist critiques of psychoanalysis, queer theory, semiotics and theories of representation among much else. You will fine-tune their critical capacities, become stronger close readers, improve your argumentation skills, and gain the confidence to embrace their curiosity by asking good questions.

In this course, we will think through the ways that race and gender play central roles in the social production of fear, terror, monstrosity, and the grotesque in popular media. Together we will learn to see how culture saturates our thoughts, desires, and imaginations in patterned ways that we are not generally aware of if we do not learn to pause and reflect on how we participate in culture as consumers. If we are successful, this course will forever change the way you see many stories that are presented to you as consumers of television, film, social media, print media, and other cultural products on a daily basis.

You will learn to regard one another as their primary interlocutors through a learning approach that de-emphasizes my singular authority as the professor. This approach works at dispersing the power to ask and answer questions among students themselves. Reading, writing, critical viewership and discussion will be central to the course. Short writing assignments will be integrated into the daily structure of the class. Evaluations will serve to develop you as a writer and thinker, preparing you to apply methods of questioning and argumentation to material they encounter in the humanities and beyond.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify and interrogate major tropes in the horror genre
  • Become conversant with key concepts in psychoanalytic theory, afro-pessimism and semiotics noticing when these concepts influence tropes in the horror genre
  • Reflect on genre as a narrative mechanism that produces social reality and masks social contradictions
  • Attune to film mechanics (i.e. camera movement, lighting, score/music, image/scene-composition) in order to read for their effects on the horror genre


While this course has no formal prerequisites, it will be ideal if you have taken a written composition course to acquaint themselves with the basic protocols of essay-writing, strategies for sound argumentation, and the appropriate use of evidence. A basic ability to express yourselves in writing will prove invaluable to you during this course. However, all who are willing to challenge preconceived notions, disagree respectfully, participate with their whole selves, and engage attentively are welcome.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: June 27, 2022 - July 08, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Zuri Kent-Smith
Kristen Maye
Course Number: 10068